Do you remember what you were doing in early March? We weren’t aware of what was about to happen across the nation and Iowa. We were in a position where we had to be reactive rather than proactive. As you look at the attached graphs of COVID cases in Iowa and Polk County (the attached PDF files), you can see the exponential rise in cases. We’ve gone from one case in early March to nearly 20,000 today. We talked about ways to “flatten the curve” and contain the virus. We implemented measures to protect clients, staff, and our community. We can see the flattening and decrease in the trend line over the past three and four weeks. A lot of Iowans worked to flatten that curve.
We begin to look at what’s next while we keep a watchful eye on the COVID. In making plans for the future, we are putting plans to paper, and we know that we may have to alter those dates depending upon trending of the COVID virus in Iowa and Polk County.
In March, we had to move quickly and all at once. As we plan for return, we can be sequential and methodical. We can talk as teams and put our collective heads together to plan (social learning!). We can be proactive instead of reactive.
Below is a “Cliff Notes” version of the past few weeks, where we are headed now, and, very importantly, the why.
It wasn’t safe when we all left our offices in March. Why are we making our plan to return? What’s changed?
When we left offices to work remotely in March, the virus was mostly unchecked in Iowa and spreading. Iowa was on the verge of a “stay at home order” as other states had done. Obtaining face masks and other protective equipment was difficult and disorganized across the country. We knew less about the virus and how it spread. There was no access to testing, and the available testing was not yet seen as reliable. We had limited knowledge, limited supplies, limited experience, limited access to reliable testing, and contagion was on the rise. Officing remotely and the use of telemedicine was an appropriate response. The Campus was not able to “go remote,” and containment precautions were designed with all the information we had at that time to minimize risk to both children and staff.
Why are we making our plan to return?
- Our work is heavily dependent upon our ability to develop healing relationships with children and their families. We know that face to face practice is most effective. Telehealth is a great way to stay connected when we are not able to connect otherwise. You all have been very creative in working around some of the limitations of telehealth. And, what we know is best, is being able to be in the same space together, whether that is an office or someone’s home.
- We can continue to use telehealth for the time being. We don’t know how long that telehealth opportunity will last. We are advocating for the use of telehealth in the future, but, today we’re not sure we will be able to. As long as we can use telehealth, we can use it from remote locations as well as offices. Being able to deliver both types of services(face to face and telehealth) gives us the greatest flexibility to manage whatever virus issue may happen in the future.
- We won’t come back all at once like we did when we left to work remotely. We can make a planful transition. We can talk with families and think about who our service priorities. We can decide who we would prioritize for returning to face to face care.
- We can be planful and institute the containment practices that we know work. So, for example, at the Campus, the containment measures are successfully stopping COVID from spreading among staff and youth. We have the experience that says we can contain COVID.
What’s changed, and why is it safer now than it was in March?
- One indicator of readiness for reopening is a steady decline in positive cases in Iowa and Polk County. This was one of the indicators I talked about in a previous email. This change has allowed us to begin to plan for reopening. We see today that the counts of positive COVID cases in Iowa are dropping as well as in Polk County. https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/case-counts This trending downward is with the “opening” of some businesses around the state and with increased testing. This is a significant decline and a very positive indicator.
- We will continue to monitor this type of data and can make adjustments to plans, as indicated.
- We have increased knowledge of the spread of the virus and how to contain it. Masks, handwashing, cleaning, social distancing, monitoring the symptoms, and avoiding unnecessary trips/exposure in public places.
- We have been able to share information with other agencies across the state. Some agencies have been mandated to continue to deliver in-home services. Of those agencies that I have spoken with, Boys Town, Children’s Square, LSI, Family Resources, Four Oaks, Hill Crest, etc., no one in their home and community-based programs have contracted the virus. Although OP hasn’t experienced going into the home for several weeks, this news of containment from other agencies is very positive.
- We have experience in containment, demonstrating positive containment results at our Campus over many weeks!
- We have increased access to testing, which is timely and accurate. You no longer have to have symptoms to qualify for a test. Turnaround on tests at the Des Moines Test Iowa location is now about 48 hours. (You can get registered for a test at TestIowa.com). The attached Iowa graph shows that testing has increased from about 2,00o tests per day a month ago, to about 6,000 tests per day today.
- There is an organized effort at the local, state, and federal level to ensure the availability and distribution of PPE. We now have confidence that we will be able to obtain appropriate PPE for our clients and staff.